I am a true Pisces, born swimming in two directions. Maybe we all have an inner Pisces at times.
The most recent example of why I feel this way is the pace of summer. Let me explain.
For some, the pace of the warmer months is slow. Beach days, casual suppers on the porch, a bike ride and maybe an ice cream cone along the way. Board games and s’mores. There may be a schedule but more probably not, let the day unravel as it will weather depending.
For others, the pace is quick. Quick in two ways. First, activity! And about this I am speaking personally because our time is finite (although luxuriously lengthy) in our summer community. I do feel the need to “fit it all in”. And in fact, our time was cut just a wee bit shorter this summer as we took a week away to attend a family wedding. But nonetheless, the pace is quick and a typical day here involves multiple cracks at the bat.
The other way the pace is quick is that depending on your age, the days of summer just seem to fly right by. When you are young, summer represents the freedom from structure, (most) rules, homework, commitments. Or at least it used to. Those waning August days would creep up unexpectedly and before you knew it you were buying back to school supplies and watching your summer glow fade into the crisp air of September.
When you are in the middle, managing those youngsters sometimes the pace of summer is soooo slow! By the end of August, you are marching into Target with an empty shopping cart and a mission to buy all the things to get your littles off to school with everything they need.
And then, once again when you are a bit older (like me) and your appreciation for the gifts of summer expands, you find yourself acknowledging that yes, time really does have wings and the days whip by faster than ever. Why is that? Why am I getting teary writing this at 8:08 AM on a Thursday?
So back to being a Pisces, when the pace is so quick for me, my body and mind revolt from time to time. They ping me and say – stop, put your pencil down (if you are old enough to remember those words, we’re friends). And so I find myself in a quiet house (you know by now, my favorite) with just the sound of the wind and the birds keeping me company, deciding to take a break from this morning’s previously scheduled programming, and write. Because even though I’m still being active, it’s using a different side of my brain and one that was begging for attention. Later, when I am finished writing, I am going to curl up and try to finish my current book, Deacon King Kong by James McBride that I am really enjoying and relax. Life is good, but life is better at least for me personally when I take the time to listen to my body’s signals that some down time is on the menu.
Back in June and before I decamped to Rhode Island, one of my culinary inspirations, Sarah Leah Chase posted on her Instagram that her iconic Nantucket Open House Cookbook was listed as a summer must-have by author Elin Hilderbrand, 35 years after its publication. Open House and Cold Weather Cooking, another of Sarah’s books are two of my favorites. They were published at a time when you needed to really read cookbooks like any other piece of written work, using your imagination to anticipate how a dish would look and taste because no glam shots of the food were included. Plus the writing! Sarah wove tales of almost every recipe, who it came from or how it came about. Sarah, if you don’t know, owned Que Sera Sarah, a specialty food store on Nantucket and was one of the authors of the Silver Palate Good Times cookbook. She has also served as inspiration for several of Ina’s recipes as well.
Anyhow, I decided I was bringing one cookbook with me to Rhode Island and Open House was it. I would try to cook from it when occasion arose and sure enough one did a bit back.
I was hosting some friends to dinner and decided to try Sarah’s paella salad. What? Paella as a salad? Yes, if you think about it, it’s basically a grain prepared with some vegetables, chicken and assorted seafood. That’s a salad these days! And honestly, while there was some work involved, it was a fun and festive dish to serve to guests.
While I used Sarah’s recipe as a framework, where I stopped short was to dress the salad with mayo at the end. I just couldn’t do it for any multitude of reasons but most importantly I wanted it to be loose, to be able to sit at room temperature for a bit before serving, and honestly to be lighter and healthier. So instead, once the rice was finished, I swapped out really good extra virgin olive oil for the mayo and also drizzled some over the finished dish to get the consistency I wanted. Silky and luxurious…
In the head note of the recipe, Sarah says “This dramatic cold interpretation of classic Spanish paella is a fabulous dish to prepare for guests on hot summer evenings” and I couldn’t agree more. However, her recipe was enough to serve an army of 20 so I cut it in half which was just about right because I had as much leftover as was consumed by 5 of us.
The components of the salad are long grain rice cooked in a broth beautifully seasoned by curry, fennel seeds, saffron and red pepper flakes. The fresh vegetables are diced small and kept raw, bell peppers, celery and scallions. Canned items called for in the recipe were black pitted olives and artichoke hearts. I swapped out with green olives and hearts of palm. The protein was diced chicken, shrimp, crab meat, mussels and hard sausage (I used chorizo). The chicken would cook with the rice and the shrimp and mussels were cooked ahead.
Early in the day, I diced up all of the veg, the olives and hearts of palm and stored those in the fridge. I cooked off the mussels in a bit of white wine and olive oil, and then used the same pan to give a little sear to the chorizo to give it some color. Once I removed the chorizo, I cooked the shrimp in the same pan with a touch of olive oil as the chorizo did not give off much fat. I shucked some of the mussels and kept the rest for presentation and stored everything in the fridge. I also diced up the chicken and kept that stored in the fridge. Finally, I sauteed the onion and garlic in my dutch oven and added the rice, toasting it for 2 minutes and turned off the heat, covered the pot and let it sit until I was ready to resume preparing the dish later in the day.
The prep was the most work and then when it was meal time, it was easy enough to cook off the rice with the chicken and add all the remaining ingredients after it had cooled slightly. The rice is meant to cooked at a bare simmer and slowly so best to use your best dutch oven if possible.
Like any dish, prepare this to your taste. I added a fair amount of salt and pepper at the end of cooking, and tasted it to adjust for more acidity with the lemon juice. Use your best olive oil to add to the flavor and mouth feel of the final dish. And most importantly, use whatever ingredients suit you! If you don’t want to deal with the mussels – don’t! Just use shrimp or if you have a leftover cooked lobster, add that in. Have fun with the ingredients and consider serving this next time you are entertaining on a hot summer evening like Sarah says!
Until next time…
Scroll to the bottom for the recipe 🙂